Salute spring with shortcake

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Salutations, meant to welcome the reader, come in all kinds of dreary.

“Dear” seems unduly cozy. It brings to mind the long-coupled couple. The Dear implicated in “Have you seen my earrings, Dear?” shoulders a burden unknown to Dear Cardholder.

“To Whom it May Concern” begs the snide retort. If a letter is that vague about its destination, it may concern no whom.

“Greetings” only works for aliens, “Good Evening” for vampires, “Darling” for the paperback cad. “Hello” suits Kitty. “Sup?” is reserved for the e-spondent in transit, via skateboard. Licensed professionals are permitted “Howdy” or “Ahoy.”

Charlotte, the clever spider who corresponded via web, offered the word “salutations” as her salutation. But then, she was addressing a pig. One understandably perplexed by “Salu-what?”

Perhaps best to skip the salutation. Follow the lead of strawberries, which offer no preamble, no “Dear Eater.” One fine day they simply appear — entirely welcome, never dreary. Time to heap them over shortcake and make short work of saluting spring.

Strawberry Shortcake

Prep: 30 minutes; Bake: 17 minutes; Serves: 8

2 quarts (2 pounds) fresh strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced stem to point

6 tablespoons sugar

2 cups flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 cup heavy cream (or, for extra delicious, try ½ cup heavy cream whisked into ½ cup crème fraîche)

For the 4 cups of Whipped Cream:

2 cups heavy cream

¼ cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Toss together sliced berries and 4 tablespoons sugar. Mash a few of the berries with a fork to release juices. Cover and let rest at room temperature.

In a large bowl, whisk flour, remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, baking powder and salt.

Use a pastry blender or quick fingers to work in butter until lumps range from crumbs to small peas.

Drizzle in all but 1 tablespoon cream. Toss with a fork until dough clumps.

Turn out clumps onto a work surface. Knead a few seconds to get the dough to hold together. Pat into a ¾-inch thick square, about 8 inches across. Use a heavy knife to cut into 8 4-by-2-inch rectangles.

Set biscuits on a baking sheet, allowing them some elbow room. Brush tops with the remaining cream. Slide into a 400-degree F oven and bake until golden brown, about 17 minutes. Don’t fret over their looks; shortcake is no beauty pageant.

Use a fork to poke biscuits along their perimeters and open, English-muffin style, while still warm. Spoon strawberries and their juices onto bottom halves. Crown with biscuit tops. Lavish with whipped cream. Enjoy.

For the whipped cream: Add heavy cream, sugar and vanilla into the mixer. Whisk to fluffy peaks.